|This is a tough crowd.|
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
It used to be writers could just write, and “other people” took care of the marketing and promotion, but that’s changed. Today, writers need to know at least a little about self-promotion and marketing to be successful (and I feel the more they know the better off they’ll be). Online opportunities make it easier for us, but what happens when your market isn’t a heavy online user?
Middle grade fiction is one of those markets where a heavy online presence probably isn’t going to do you a whole lot of good. The bulk of your readers aren’t eagerly clicking on blogs to see the next great book or tweeting about what they’ve read recently. They’re out being kids and having fun. They hear about their books from friends, parents, teachers, and librarians.
Those are the folks you want to reach online.
Media center specialist and local librarians recommend books to their readers every day, and the middle grade crowd often seeks them out to know what’s worth reading. I asked my local media specialists a few questions about how and where they found their books, and here’s what they said.
Where do you hear about/find new books for your school's library?
Most had multiple resources they checked, the most common ones being the tradition book review sites like School Library Journal, Booklist and The Horn Book review journal. Others included suggestions by retail bookstore employees and book vendors, book fairs, literature conferences and media specialists meetings. Many belonged to e-mail lists and received catalogs from book vendors. One surprise: students also tell them what’s hot and what they need to get.
What This Means for Writers
The bulk of the marketing here is coming from places the typical writer doesn’t have access to, though their publisher likely does. (For example, I know my publisher sends my books to School Library Journal, Booklist and the Horn Book for reviews) But since media specialists also hear about books from booksellers, getting to know your local booksellers is a possible option. (And if they’re anything like my local booksellers, they’re awesome folks)
How often do you find books online?
This is what we want to know, right? All the media specialists I spoke to said they did indeed find books online, ranging from “occasionally” to “often.” But again, many of these online resources were things the typical writer doesn’t have control over. As in, they can’t do anything to actively promote on that online venue.
Now the question we’ve all been waiting for…
What are some sites/resources that you use to find new books?
There are a bunch of sites and many of them don’t take submissions from authors so I’m not listing them. (Feel free to email me if you’re just curious and I’ll send you the list). I’m going to list the ones that do or might, and chat a bit about them where applicable.
Barnes & Noble and Amazon (Online)
It’s an easy one-stop shopping kind of site where you can find multiple reviews for books you’re interested in.
What can writers do here: Try and get as many reviews as you can from a wide variety of sources. For example, I’m about to contact the folks who gave nice reviews of my books and see if they’d be willing to post them on the bookseller sites. Good for me and good for them since they can advertise their own blog or review site. I don’t know how many will say yes, but I’ll let you know. You can also have an author’s page on Amazon, and create reading lists of favorite books.
School Library Journal
Plenty of reviews and the most commonly mentioned site in my small survey. They have multiple bloggers doing reviews as well, some with links to the kidlit bloggers those reviews like. So there are lots of resources.
What can writers do here: SLJ doesn’t accept submissions for review directly from authors, but the links to other reviewer blogs is a great resource. Many of them you can contact.
Books N Bytes
Specializing in mystery, science fiction and fantasy, this site is filled with author interviews, guest columns, reviews, signing reports and more. Looks like a lot of stuff.
What writers can do here: They do have an “update” page where you can send in a book to be listed or considered for reviewed. I noticed that my books aren’t on here and I’ll be sending something in myself to fix that.
Read Kiddo Read
Run by James Patterson, this site is dedicated to making kids readers for life. They offer reviews by age group, as well as lesson plans for teachers and media specialists. (More stuff as well, so poke around. It’s a cool site)
What writers can do here: I saw no info for submitting, so I’m not sure if writers can contact them or not. Worth a try though. (If anyone has more info here, let me know)
A pretty big site of reviews, interviews, and all kinds of fun bookish stuff.
What writers can do here: They have submission info for sending in books for review. They do interviews and have guest posts as well, and I imagine you can also ask about those. Definitely a sight worth checking out.
Teen Reads Too
A very similar site to Teen Reads, and this one seems to have more for the middle grader.
What writers can do here: They have submission info for being added to the author directory, reviews or interviews, so they’re open to authors.
YALSA’s Teen List
The Young Adult Library Services Association is part of the ALA (American Library Association). They put out a “Best Books for Teens” list every year and give six literary awards per year (the Printz is one of them). They also do other teen related reading events.
What writers can do here: YALSA is a group you can join and get involved with the various events and things they do. I happened to run into one of the group leaders in my region at a book signing once, and did several events with them. They seem open to authors and worth contacting (or joining) and getting involved.
What Publishers Do
I also checked with my publisher and marketing folks (HarperCollins and the Nelson Literary Agency) to see what they do to help market their MG books. Here’s what they said:
“From the publicity standpoint, we try to place book reviews or features in magazines such as Girls Life, Boys Life, and Discovery Girls that tweens read. I also work with the gatekeepers, including librarian book blogs (Fuse 8 is a great one) or parenting magazines, such as Family Circle, or Parenting School Years.” -- Allison, Assistant Director of Publicity, Integrated Marketing
“So, the elusive middle grade reader, huh? Readers of middle grade are still at the age where the books they read are most often coming from teachers, librarians, and parents, so in a traditional sense, the majority of our marketing continues to reach out to those gatekeepers—both online and off. But we’ve also started to reach out to tweens via the online communities and interactive websites they inhabit, providing such sites with content for middle grade books (i.e. excerpts, videos, games, etc.) that allow children to engage with a given book before they make the jump to having a parent buy it for them or checking it out from the library.” -- Emilie, Integrated Marketing Manager
“I would offer that one of the most fruitful efforts an author can make is to connect with his/her readers online whenever possible. These days, middle-graders and tweens are starting to visit specialty blogs and review sites and express their opinions via comment sections and reader forums; nothing is more exciting than to hear from their favorite author in response. And connecting with readers in this way allows an author to build not only good will but a loyal community, one that doesn't think twice about recommending their favorite books to friends!” –Lindsey, NLA Marketing Liaison
Yeah, sometimes I am too. One thing that everyone (publishing-wise) has told me is that middle grade is a slow burn. It takes time to develop a readership because of the middle tier of adults who often pass down the books to the actual reader. While YA is more like adult, and a book sometimes needs to land with a big splash or get left behind, middle grade is given more time to grow.
ETA: Natalie Aguirre over at Literary Rambles started doing a monthly "Ask the Experts" column where she interviews a middle grade reader about what they read and where the find their books. Very enlightening stuff. July's post goes up Monday. The first two are here and here. (On an unrelated note, they also have an awesome round up of agent info and other good stuff over there)
Those in the know are still trying to figure out how to market to this group, so don’t feel bad if you’re not sure how to do it either. For me, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and reaching out to readers of all ages.
Your thoughts? How do you feel about online marketing? Do you have any tips or tricks that work well for you?
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